Exceptional skills, broadly defined as talents or skills that significantly exceed those encountered in the general population, are more common in autistic people. Exceptional memory skills are among the most common of these exceptional skills. Although the co-occurrence of autism and exceptional memory has been studied, the link between the two is not well understood. We cannot say why some autistic people have such excellent memories, or if their exceptional skills involve different brain systems to those of neurotypical people with exceptional memory.
The aim of this study is to explore exceptional memory skills in both autistic and neurotypical people. We are interested in learning more about the types of exceptional memory skills that people have, such as for music or for numbers, and whether the brains of people who have exceptional memory show differences in structure and function compared to those who do not. We also want to explore whether autistic people who have exceptional memory skills have unique patterns of brain connections, compared to neurotypical people with exceptional memory skills.
To study these topics we are enrolling participants into a two-phase study. In phase one, we are inviting potential participants to take an online survey which includes three online memory tests.
If you would like to participate in the study, you can click here to find out more. Everyone is welcome; you do not have to be autistic to participate.
To take part you must be between the ages of 16 and 60.
In phase two of the study, selected participants will then be invited to visit the University of Cambridge. During the visit participants will do further in-person memory tests and have a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.
Participants will receive an image of their brain produced by this scan and all expenses will be paid.
Although an increased incidence of exceptional talents has long been recognised in autistic people, little research has been done to identify why this occurs and what it can tell us about autism more widely. This will be the largest such study to date and will help to deepen our understanding of memory, and exceptional memory in particular. It will help people with exceptional talents better understand their own biology and how this influences their abilities. We also hope that this research will highlight the strengths and talents of some autistic people.
In 2021 we consulted with 150 autistic people via a survey to hear about exceptional skills. In 2022, we followed up with a series of focus groups with 4 autistic people and 1 parent of an autistic child, and also received written feedback from a further 7 autistic people. These groups discussed the study, the presentation of materials to participants, and the construction of an online survey on exceptional skills.
This study was funded by an anonymous donor to the Cambridge University Development Office (CUDAR)